How can you plan a safe vacation?

What’s a safe vacation? One where you get what you paid for? Or you get to stay healthy?

safe vacationJoel Smiler doesn’t want to miss his 50th wedding anniversary trip to Maui this September. But he’s not sure if it’s still a good idea or a totally safe vacation.

For Smiler, a retired veterinarian, Maui checks a lot of boxes for safety. Hawaii is a domestic destination, and it has reliable air connections and relatively few coronavirus cases. But when Smiler talks about “safe,” he’s not talking just about health. He also wants to recover his money if there’s another COVID-19 outbreak.

“My biggest loss would be the condo if we cancel,” he says. “I would lose half of my payment.”

Smiler is not alone. As Americans cautiously look to their next vacation, they’re concerned about health — not just physical health but also financial health. They want a real safe vacation from many points of view.. 

Airlines want to keep passengers healthy

Air carriers are taking a variety of steps to protect passengers’ health, such as blocking middle seats and testing for COVID-19. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines are among the major airlines blocking middle seats. Frontier Airlines announced last week that it would guarantee an empty middle seat next to you for $39, then withdrew the offer amid criticism.

Emirates was one of the first airlines to conduct blood tests on passengers. Other carriers have announced plans to clean the cabins more thoroughly. Qatar Airways, for example, said it would install advanced air-filtration systems, adopt protocols for washing onboard linen and blankets, and sanitize its service utensils and cutlery at higher temperatures. For airlines, cleanliness is the key to a safe vacation.

But passengers are unhappy with the way airlines have handled their money. When carriers canceled flights, they pushed passengers to accept vouchers instead of the legally required full refunds. No one knows what future refund policies will look like, but travelers are certain they will favor the airlines.

“While airlines were lenient and understanding with flights affected by the first waves of infection, travel booked during stay-at-home and quarantine orders may have different rules and regulations,” says Matthew Bradley, the regional security director for the Americas at International SOS.

Cruise lines want cruisers to return to cleaner ships and more safety

safe vacationIt’s too early to tell how safe cruises will — or won’t — be seen in the safe vacation world. Some cruise lines have taken steps to reassure prospective customers that they run a clean ship. Carnival, for example, announced new ship cleaning standards, which include more frequent sanitizing of surfaces, thorough cleaning of staterooms, and nightly deep cleaning with specialized equipment.

“When cruising resumes, I expect them to be much safer than they were just a few months ago,” says Tanner Callais, founder of the cruise website

Health experts warn that diseases can spread rapidly on cruise ships, and they recommend avoiding them if you are in a high-risk group.

“Even if there are doctors aboard, they may not be able to provide adequate care should someone become severely ill. They may not be able to get that person to necessary care in a timely manner,” says Chris Worsham, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.


Hotel safety is still primarily on the shoulders of guests
Protect yourself from COVID-19 when renting a car

Hotels boast better cleaning of rooms

safe vacationHotel chains have been introducing additional measures to sanitize their properties. For example, Marriott recently announced programs designed to keep its hotels virus-free, including the use of electrostatic sprayers (which disperse very fine, electrically charged particles that aggressively adhere to surfaces) with hospital-grade disinfectants.

But during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, hotels were reluctant to let guests off the hook for nonrefundable stays. Some resorts also refused to refund money, forcing customers to accept vouchers instead. As the current outbreak progresses, be on the lookout for cancellation terms that protect hotels from another wave of pandemic-related cancellations.

Of course, the definition of “safe” differs from one person to the next. For some travelers, a July vacation involving a discount cruise and nonrefundable airfare may seem safe enough; others won’t leave their homes until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.

After some contemplation, Smiler, the retired veterinarian, has decided to go to Maui anyway. But he’s taking one more precaution. “I’m going to protect my trip with cancel-for-any-reason travel insurance,” he says. “This will at least cover some of my possible losses.”

The one thing many of us seem to have plenty of is time. Molly Fergus, general manager of the travel site TripSavvy, recommends taking advantage of it, but not necessarily to plan short-term travel.

“Take this time to plan those long-lead bucket-list vacations that require detailed planning,” she says. “That way you’re not rushing into another trip during uncertain times, but still have something to look forward to.”

Christopher Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in the Washington Post.